Graphene: It Does Everything (Including Blow My Mind)

GrapheneSince I started working for Promega in 1999 (goodness, it’s been that long?), one of the “side benefits” I’ve enjoyed is the exposure I’ve gotten to science. See, I’m not a scientist, nor did I particularly love science in school. I was definitely more of an English/language arts/communication type person. Science wasn’t my strong suit, and — confession time — I didn’t find it all that interesting.

And then I grew up and got a job at a life science company, and now? Science is pretty awesome. I get my mind blown on a very regular basis. Most recently, my jaw is on the floor over graphene.

Have you heard of graphene? I hadn’t, until I happened upon an article about it. It’s been around for a while, though, so it’s entirely possible I’m just late to the party. Graphene is a material that was first isolated in 2005. It’s made from a layer of carbon one atom thick and was confirmed in 2008 as the world’s strongest known material. It’s flexible and more conductive than copper or silicon, and the potential uses for it are pretty inspiring. As far as I know, they’re all still mostly proofs of concept and fairly in the realm of hypothetical, but imagine the possibilities here:

  • Electronics could be outfitted with graphene transistors more than a hundred times as fast as today’s silicon transistors, and these would not be prone to overheating under significant operational load, because electrons move through graphene with almost no resistance, and graphene is a good thermal conductor itself, allowing heat to dissipate quickly. 
  • Graphene antennas could enable terabit wireless downloads, meaning you could wirelessly get hundreds of movies on your mobile device in a matter of seconds, not hours. From the article: “A terabit per second could be done at a range of about one meter using a graphene antenna, which would make it possible to obtain 10 high-definition movies by waving your phone past another device for one second.”
  • Graphene batteries could fully charge your iPhone in five seconds. Oh, and the batteries would be inexpensive to produce and non-toxic (they’re made of carbon…the spent ones would go in your compost heap). Hook a graphene supercapacitor up to a MacBook, and you get your charge in 30 seconds. An electric car powered by this technology could be charged in the time it takes to fill up a conventional gas tank.
  • A water filter made of nanoporous graphene could make it possible to filter NaCl salt from water, making it safe for consumption.
  • Graphene oxide has shown ability to quickly remove radioactive material from contaminated water, making the cleanup of sites like the Fukushima nuclear plants significantly easier.
  • Are you an audiophile? A single sheet of graphene, with no tuning or tweaking, has been shown to provide a frequency response comparable to a pair of commercial Sennheiser earphones.
  • Graphene can even improve your tennis game: a newly redesigned racquet series contains graphene in the racquet’s shaft which lets the bulk of the weight go to the head and the grip, where it’s more useful.
  • It can heal itself. In an accidental discovery, researchers observed that graphene can absorb loose carbon atoms in its vicinity to repair holes in its structure.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Is there anything graphene can’t (potentially) do? I love it when I get my mind blown. Science is way cool. But seriously, to whom do I need to speak to get that five-second iPhone charger? Because I NEED that.

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Caroline Sober

Caroline is a senior software developer at Promega. She’s not a scientist, so if you hear her talking about DNA purification or pipetting or current issues in bioprivacy, she’s totally faking it and you should tell her to hush. She is, however, passionate about building useful software, the interactions between people and technology in general, and how social media is changing the conversation between companies and customers. She lives in Madison with her husband, daughter, and 110-pound dog.

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